What does Alton Towers’ ‘human error’ finding mean for the future of theme parks?
Alton Towers has revealed that it was human error that caused the collision of its Smiler ride, which left two women needing their legs amputated and others injured.
While the findings defend the safety mechanisms of the ride itself, they throw into question the dangers of human manual involvement with high-speed rides. Merlin Entertainment, which owns the Alton Towers theme park, stated that a “ride shutdown message was misunderstood by staff, so the system was manually restarted, overriding the control system without safety protocols being followed correctly”.
While Merlin reported significantly lower visitor numbers for Alton Towers since the widely reported crash, the long term impact on the industry as a whole remains to be seen. With human error leading to such disastrous consequences, it would be interesting to observe how Chessington, Thorpe Park and the like react. This will also affect carnival rides, as they are even more reliant on human operation, and much less likely to be as stringently regulated as their larger counterparts.
Of course, Alton Towers – along with other theme parks – rely on their adrenaline pumping scare factor. However, the safety net has always been that while being thrown about at high speed, you are ultimately in good hands. When that is called into question, the white-knuckle ride providers find themselves with a serious reputational headache.